What’s Clothes Got to Do with it? Confidence Hack #2

If you looked in Jae’s closet, you would have seen a scene straight out of those movies where the main character needs to loosen up–rows of the same shirts, pants and jackets–all in black and white.

When Jae started her job, she was hired as an intrepreneur. It was her job to coordinate among multiple groups in her department to bring a new set of guidelines to life. This was a big and highly political job, and she developed what she calls “her uniform,” a simple, practical and easily replicable outfit that she wore to work every day. “It eliminated the need to worry about whether I looked good or not. I made a decision that this outfit made me look and feel powerful once, and I just let that decision dictate the outfit for the rest of my stressful months,” she says. Once her project was wrapped, to much acclaim, Jae said she finally felt like she could wear other outfits, including dresses, to work again.

I have a complicated relationship with clothing. Clothing is actually what got me on the design career path—I marched to the beat of my own fashion drum growing up and DIYing my own clothes. I wore pants made out of Rainbow Brite sheets and mini skirts made out of baby blankets to high school—no, really.

mia scharphie

Yet the part of me that loves fashion has often been in conflict with the part of me that is passionate about supporting women.

I remember, one semester in college, as I started to read about the way women are objectified I started to feel really conflicted about my over-the-top fashion. Not wanting to be judged by my outside, I felt an intense urge to melt my physical presence into the background so my intellectual and emotional presence could come to the fore. For some reason this translated into wearing overalls and baggy t-shirts for a semester which only made me feel like a mess. I scrapped the experiment but still remember that period as really blah–it felt those darkest days in the middle of February– but all the time.

Hack #2: Dress for the Job—and Your Heart

When I founded my design and research consultancy, clothing became a big issue again. I worried constantly that I wasn’t good enough, that no one would hire me, that I looked too young to be running a business.

So I decided I needed to dress more grown up. And just like in college, I got it wrong at first. My blouses, sweaters and suit pants were all very respectable, but also very boring.

I didn’t feel like myself when I wore these clothes, and rather than give me confidence and energy, they made me feel blah and vanilla.

And this was a problem, because as I learned over time, part of what I was good at, and why companies were hiring me was to bring my energy and fresh perspective to their projects. Innovation and flair was part of my unique value add.

Dressing the part of what I thought I was supposed to look like, rather than dressing like me was dampening that aspect that made me valuable.

Tapping back into that energy meant re-injecting flair into my wardrobe, which for me meant bright colors, graphic prints and colored tights and accessories. It didn’t mean dyeing my hair pink again–I still needed to look respectable–but it was my version of respectability this time.

mia scharphie speaking building confidence

I started walking into business meetings with confidence–the kind that comes not from trying to impress someone, but from feeling comfortable in your own skin.

And it paid off in my performance and poise–we’re very attuned to each other’s energy, and deep-seated confidence inspires trust. It didn’t matter that I only had a few of my new “power outfits”–I was in the early days of my business and had very little disposable cash–I had just enough to pull out of the closet when I needed them –as long as I didn’t need to show up at the same place over and over 😉

We know that we are judged by our outsides–and women’s appearances are judged and picked apart all the more. They say you should dress for the job you want–but we have to remember the ‘you want’ part. We have to dress for what we aspire to, and the potential we want others to see in us, but we also have to do it on our own terms.

What we put on in the morning is a form of communication. It’s a message to the world–but it’s also a message to ourselves.

What we wear tells ourselves of who we want to be. It’s a statement of faith to our insides that says, “I make this change on the outside as an investment in the person I want to be.”

And that looks different for everyone. For Jae it was somber black and whites–the same look every day until she met her goal. For me it was blue tights and magenta lipstick–but not at the same time 😉

What do you want to communicate to your insides through your outside?

What’s your power uniform, your power accessory, your power element?